As defamation lawsuits against Twitter parody accounts become more common, courts are grappling with how to properly apply precedent developed in the context of traditional media to tweets. Twitter parody defamation cases, like Congressman Devin Nunes’s infamous lawsuit against the @DevinCow Twitter parody account, raise novel questions like how courts should conceive of ‘reasonable’ readers on Twitter, and what Twitter content is relevant to the defamatory meaning analysis. The answers to these questions will have far-reaching effects on speech online. Parody authors are already vulnerable to defamation liability, particularly on Twitter where their statements often appear with very little context. As a result, Twitter parody accounts are especially vulnerable to defamation liability, as well as liability for criminal online impersonation statutes which are emerging across the country. This paper proposes how courts should determine whether a tweet intended as parody has defamatory meaning, arguing for a contextual approach to protect the First Amendment rights of Twitter parody authors.
Lux, Emma, Twitter, Parody, and the First Amendment: A Contextual Approach to Twitter Parody Defamation (2020). Loyola of Los Angeles Entertainment Law Review, Forthcoming.